My goal for this series of blog posts is for writers to save themselves a lot of time and frustration. This series is meant to get you on the path toward publication, provided you put in the work of writing and revising. Don't worry if you don't follow all these recommendations--who could? I'll be the first to admit that even I'm guilty of sometimes not using my time wisely--look for my tip on social media! But overall this series contains hard-won truths on how to make writing a bigger part of your life. I hope it clarifies the publishing guidelines, professional etiquette, and protocols you may have been unsure about in the past. More than anything, I hope it puts you on track toward opportunities you may not have imagined.
Throughout college I was enrolled in poetry workshops. It wasn't until I was wrapping up my MFA in creative writing that I started to write fiction. I'd always written the occasional essay, but I found myself growing more and more interested in long-form fiction. And so I took it upon myself to read all I could about how a novel is structured.
I discovered that I loved the challenge of the novel. Planning it and outlining it, I loved the surprises that came with creating a story out of thin air. I became curious about other poets who I knew had written novels. And I began reading novels with the mind of a detective: how did the writer use this technique and not that one? Why did the novelist use 3rd person point of view and not first person point of view? Writing fiction allowed me to work on a larger canvas and work more freely to explore the themes and obsessions that I've always been drawn to in poetry.
And I grew convinced that writing in another genre was helping me grow as a writer, even if I couldn't articulate how. My mind seemed to be expanding and I was learning how to do something that felt monumental. At times I felt like a world-class juggler, as I dealt with keeping all the characters, voices, and plot-lines alive and well in my story. And I couldn't help but compare and contrast the experience of writing a novel to that of writing a poem.
I kept to more of a writing schedule because I always had more than one project waiting in the wings. I grew to love the way I could revisit my novel and continually work to perfect each page--a constant effort to polish the work until I was done. I also realized pretty quickly that my training in poetry had been helpful to me as an aspiring novelist: my instinct was to compress and pay close attention to language. Therefore, once I had an outline and the general plot of the story at hand, I could create the fast-moving story I was after. I was never the sort of writer who was prone to lengthy descriptions or overly dense language. I liked to cut to the chase.
I can't help but feel that writing fiction and nonfiction has made me a more well-rounded writer. I'm more comfortable writing essays, reviews, flash fiction, and short stories because of my interest in fiction. I still remember how I felt in college at the prospect of writing fiction, though. It was just not something I could fathom doing. I rejected the idea completely because I didn't think it was in my skill-set--I'd only ever written poetry. What would all my classmates think?
Writing feels more satisfying to me now than it did in the past. And learning to work in another genre has recalibrated what held my imagination all along about creative writing in general. I prize that sense of wonder and innate curiosity--it's what keeps me hammering away on a given project--I want to see how it's done. I'm someone who always likes to be learning more about the creative process and overcoming creative challenges. Writing a novel was the ultimate challenge--and I never stopped writing poetry.
Tasha Cotter, @TashCotter, is a poet and fiction writer based in Lexington, Kentucky. She is the author of two chapbooks of poetry and the full-length collection, Some Churches (Gold Wake Press, 2013). You can find her online at www.tashacotter.com.